Syrians dread impact of Caesar Act sanctions aimed at Assad

Syrians dread impact of Caesar Act sanctions aimed at Assad
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Syrians dread impact of Caesar Act sanctions aimed at Assad
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Updated 12 August 2020

Syrians dread impact of Caesar Act sanctions aimed at Assad

Syrians dread impact of Caesar Act sanctions aimed at Assad
  • Average citizens begin to experience pain as US sanctions add to privations of war and pandemic
  • Erosion of pound’s value pushes many essential commodities beyond the reach of ordinary people

LEEDS, UK: While the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests in the West monopolize the global conversation, the plight of Syria’s civilian population seems to have been all but forgotten.

Trapped in a country devastated by 10 years of civil war, the lives of ordinary Syrians are being buffeted by a collapsing currency, medicine shortages, skyrocketing inflation and deepening poverty. And, by all accounts, the worst is yet to come.

As the Caesar Act, the tough new Syria-specific US legislation, entered into force on June 17, the official exchange rate for the dollar nearly doubled, jumping from 704 to 1,256 Syrian pounds.

The previous day, the black-market value had fallen sharply, with 2,950 Syrian pounds — instead of 2,850 — fetching $1.

The Caesar Act seeks not just to prevent members of President Bashar Assad’s inner circle from continuing to profit from the war, but also to hold them accountable for crimes against humanity.

While the ultimate objective may be to cut off Assad from Iran, Hezbollah and Russia and force him to share power with the opposition, regular people in Syria (and Lebanon) are already feeling the pinch.




Syrians in Suwayda chant anti-government slogans as they protest the deteriorating economy and corruption. (AFP)

The Syrian exchange rate has been fluctuating since the beginning of June, forcing many shops in Damascus to put up the shutters as it becomes difficult for traders to set prices.

The latest shockwaves come even as the full impact of the coronavirus crisis on the economy is yet to be felt.

R.K., 54, a working-class mother of three, said she was sent home when the lockdowns started in March without her last salary.




Hyperinflation and an eroding currency mean a normal weekly wage now lasts three days for some Syrians. (AFP)

“If not for the money I received from friends abroad, I have no idea how my family would’ve survived, especially with my son being badly injured and my two daughters unemployed,” she told Arab News.

“We used my husband’s last paycheck to pay the rent, and were left with only a few potatoes and no cash.”

M.H., a 30-year-old resident of Damascus who works in drama productions, complained about the pernicious effects of stagnant and meager wages on top of an eroding currency and hyperinflation.




A displaced Syrian girl waits for customers bringing chickpeas to grind for a fee, at the Washukanni camp for the internally displaced in Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province on May 10, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

“My salary lasted only a week or 10 days before the coronavirus lockdown. Now, although the lockdown has ended in Damascus, my salary barely lasts three days,” she told Arab News.

Referring to the Caesar Act, whose sanctions provisions are now fully in effect, she said she has no idea what to expect other than that “definitely, there will be no substantial pay raise.”

FASTFACTS

IN NUMBERS

- 44% Fall in Syrian pound’s value before sanctions

- 3x Rise in food prices in Syria in one year

M.H. summed up the prevailing mood of doom and gloom thus: “I suggest, instead of all these sanctions, which are slowly draining life out of people in Syria, how about they execute us by firing squad?”

Reacting to the situation more matter-of-factly, Amina F., 31, a Damascus-based content writer and e-marketing professional, said: “Proactive measures should have been taken to mitigate the effects of the Caesar Act.”

The Syrian capital probably does not even typify the worst impact of the economic crisis. Deteriorating living conditions left residents of Suwayda, a government-controlled region mainly populated by Druze, with no option but to take to the streets earlier this month in large numbers.




A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on March 5, 2020 shows President Bashar Assad speaking during an interview with Russia Today in Damascus. (AFP/File Photo)

In its “Syria m-VAM” survey report, released in April, the World Food Program (WFP) noted that “the availability of food in markets is diminishing and prices are rising as a result of the depreciation of the Syrian pound.”

The report tallied the losses caused by the forced suspension of many economic activities, as well as the partial curfews imposed by the government to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The report said the restrictions took their toll on jobs and earnings, with 67 percent of households interviewed in Suwayda reporting the loss of one or more sources of income.




A woman walks past shops at the main market of the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli in Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province on May 19, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

Assad issued a decree on June 11 firing Prime Minister Imad Khamis and naming Hussein Arnous, the water resources minister, as his successor.

The order did not cite any specific reason for the dismissal of Khamis, who had been appointed to the top job in 2016.

Just days earlier, in a post on his official Facebook account, Ghassan Fattoum, a former head of the Syria Journalists Union, wrote: “It is strange that there are still those who import and experiment with solutions in hopes of finding the right solution, but we did not and will not reach (a solution) if we continue to churn out a traditional vision that lacks creative solutions for managing the state’s resources in an optimal way.”




People shop for produce at al-Shaalan market in Syria's capital Damascus on June 10, 2020. (AFP)

Kevin DeJesus, assistant professor at the John Hazen White College of Arts and Sciences at Johnson and Wales University, said he has no doubt that “Syria’s already vulnerable population will suffer further” due to the Caesar Act.

“We’ll witness a deepening and more complex crisis in the country as these sanctions will have economic and humanitarian repercussions,” he told Arab News.

“As time marches on, the effects of this crisis will mirror the dire humanitarian effects of the US sanctions strategy in Iraq, which devastated civilian life while Saddam Hussein retained power.”




People wave Syrian national flags and pictures of President Bashar al-Assad as they gather for a demonstration in support of Assad and against US sanctions on the country, at the Umayyad Square in the centre of the capital Damascus on June 11, 2020. (AFP)

Not even the deadly coronavirus pandemic prompted the West to lift or ease sanctions targeting the Assad regime.

If there is a compelling new case for the same governments to walk their policy back, it has yet to be made by Damascus.

The European Commission published on May 12 a report on its official website that ruled out any negative impact on Syria’s medical response to COVID-19.

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“EU sanctions do not prohibit the export to Syria of respirators, disinfectants, hand sanitizers or detergents used to respond to COVID-19,” the report said, adding that traders need to make sure that these goods “will not be used for military purposes or internal repression.”

Syrian Health Minister Nizar Yazigi said the Caesar Act will impede the supply of medical equipment and medicines for chronic diseases by not exempting the Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade, which is responsible for importing medicines.

At the same time, he added: “There is no shortage of any drug substance (and) although there might be a shortage of certain brands, there are alternatives.”




Syrians walk past a second-hand clothes at shop in front of a flea market in the capital Damascus on May 17, 2020, amid severe economic crisis that has been compounded by a coronavirus lockdown. (AFP/File Photo)

Whatever the truth, residents of Damascus have been complaining of medicine shortages since early June, prompting some activists to start a Facebook group titled “Together better,” whose members share the medicines they have but do not use and are willing to give away.

The “Syria m-VAM” report of April noted that “only 57 public hospitals are functioning and there are significant shortages of trained health workers.”

Against a backdrop of what looks like a looming humanitarian crisis, DeJesus believes the tide will turn against the US sanctions.




Syrian pounds are pictured at a currency exchange shop in the town of Sarmada in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, on June 15, 2020. (AFP)

“The world will grow alarmed at the deepening hunger, unemployment, collapse of social structures and, crucially, the inability of the large Syrian diaspora to send remittances and development resources to people back home,” he said.

On a geopolitical level, he added, a year from now the US will have further ceded influence to China and Russia.

“Criminal syndicates and black-market economies will flourish, and the network around the Syrian president, which has protected his power, will only hold tighter to that power as they weather this considerable, but not insurmountable, challenge,” DeJesus said.




Syrians walk in old Damascus in front of a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, on June 16, 2020. - The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019, a US law that aims to sanction any person who assists the Syrian government or contributes to the country's reconstruction, is to come into force on June 17. (AFP)

Camille Otrakji, a Syrian-Canadian analyst, believes the Caesar sanctions will not force Russia to abandon Syria.

“To fully reinstate its superpower status, Russia will need a diplomatic success like a deal to end the decade-long war in Syria,” he told Arab News.

“The Trump administration is saying, both publicly and privately, that it’s interested in a deal, but some US officials are insisting on terms that the authorities in Damascus aren’t willing to accommodate.

“A withdrawal of all foreign troops — except those of Russia — is one possibility. Iran understands that a deal would have to include some degree of attenuation of its presence in Syria.”

Looking to the future, Otrakji said: “There are two significant milestones to watch within the next year: The US presidential elections in November 2020, and the Syrian presidential elections in July 2021.”

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@AnanTello

Decoder

What is the Caesar Act?

The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which entered into force on June 17, 2020, is a US legislation that sanctions the Syrian government, including President Bashar Assad, for war crimes. It is named after “Caesar,” a Syrian military forensic photographer who documented torture of civilians by the regime.


‘Accident’ strikes Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility

‘Accident’ strikes Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility
Updated 11 April 2021

‘Accident’ strikes Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility

‘Accident’ strikes Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility
  • Behrouz Kamalvandi said there were no injuries nor pollution caused by the incident
  • Iran later called the incident sabotage

TEHRAN: Iran's Natanz nuclear site suffered a problem Sunday involving its electrical distribution grid just hours after starting up new advanced centrifuges that more quickly enrich uranium, state TV reported. It was the latest incident to strike one of Tehran's most-secured sites amid negotiations over the tattered atomic accord with world powers.
State TV quoted Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran's civilian nuclear program, announcing the incident.
Kamalvandi said there were no injuries or pollution cause by the incident.
The word state television used in its report attributed to Kamalvandi in Farsi can be used for both “accident” and “incident.” It didn't immediately clarify the report, which ran at the bottom of its screen on its live broadcast. The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the civilian arm of its nuclear program, did not immediately issue a formal statement about the incident on its website.
Natanz suffered a mysterious explosion in July that authorities later described as sabotage. Israel, Iran's regional archenemy, has been suspected of carrying out an attack there, as well as launching other assaults, as world powers now negotiate with Tehran in Vienna over its nuclear deal.
On Saturday, Iran announced it had launched a chain of 164 IR-6 centrifuges at the plant, injecting them with the uranium gas and beginning their rapid spinning. Officials also began testing the IR-9 centrifuge, which they say will enrich uranium 50 times faster than Iran's first-generation centrifuges, the IR-1. The nuclear deal limited Iran to using only IR-1s for enrichment.
Since then-President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, Tehran has abandoned all the limits of its uranium stockpile. It now enriches up to 20% purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%. Iran maintains its atomic program is for peaceful purposes, but fears about Tehran having the ability to make a bomb saw world powers reach the deal with the Islamic Republic in 2015.
The deal lifted economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for it limiting its program and allowing inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to keep a close watch on its work.


Libya launches COVID-19 vaccination drive after delays

Libya launches COVID-19 vaccination drive after delays
Updated 11 April 2021

Libya launches COVID-19 vaccination drive after delays

Libya launches COVID-19 vaccination drive after delays
  • The country's healthcare system has been strained by years of political turmoil and violence
  • Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh called it a "blessed day" in the fight against COVID-19 after receiving his shot

TRIPOLI: Libya's new unity government launched a long-delayed COVID-19 vaccination programme on Saturday after receiving some 160,000 vaccine doses over the past week, with the prime minister receiving his jab on live television.
While Libya is richer than its neighbours due to oil exports, the country's healthcare system has been strained by years of political turmoil and violence, and it has struggled to cope during the pandemic.
Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh called it a "blessed day" in the fight against COVID-19 after receiving his shot, without saying which vaccine he had been given. At least 100,000 of the doses that arrived this week were Russia's Sputnik V vaccine.
Dbeibeh's interim Government of National Unity was sworn in last month after emerging through a UN-facilitated process with a mandate to unify the country, improve state services and oversee the run-up to a national election in December.
Dbeibeh's government has framed the delivery of vaccines and the national roll-out as evidence that it is improving the lives of ordinary Libyans after replacing two warring administrations that ruled in the east and west of the country.
"Through the political consultations and the efforts of the prime minister, the vaccine is available," said Health Minister Ali Al-Zanati, who has said previously the government had so far ordered enough doses to inoculate 1.4 million of the country's more than six million people.
Libya's National Centre for Disease Control has said more than 400,000 people have registered for vaccination in more than 400 centres around the country.
Libya has recorded more than 166,000 coronavirus cases and nearly 3,000 deaths, though UN envoys have said the true figures are likely far higher.
"I feel sorry that the vaccine arrived late in Libya after thousands were infected. But better late than never," said Ali al-Hadi, a shop owner, adding that his wife had been sick with COVID-19 and recovered.
Many Libyans fear the vaccination campaign could be marred by political infighting or favouritism after years of unrest.
"We hope the Health Ministry will steer away from political conflicts so that services can reach patients," said housewife Khawla Muhammad, 33. 


Suez Canal receives Middle East’s largest dredger

Suez Canal receives Middle East’s largest dredger
A file photo shows a dredger trying to free the Panama-flagged MV Ever Given long vessel across the waterway of Egypt's Suez Canal. (AFP)
Updated 10 April 2021

Suez Canal receives Middle East’s largest dredger

Suez Canal receives Middle East’s largest dredger
  • Its maximum drilling depth is 35 m and the dredger has control, safety and security systems matching the latest standards of international supervisory bodies

CAIRO: Egypt has welcomed the largest dredger of its kind in the Middle East, the “Mohab Mamish,” on board the heavy transport vessel Xiang Rui Kou.

Dredgers are advanced drilling equipment used by the Suez Canal to cleanse the waterway of sand and mud deposits, contributing to its expansion and deepening.

The Suez Canal showed its reliance on dredgers in the rescue and re-float operation of the giant container ship “Ever Given,” which ran aground in the shipping course on March 23. The incident caused the canal’s closure for six days.

Sources said that the dredger, inaugurated by the Dutch IHC Shipyard, would begin its new duties within the Suez Canal fleet soon.

The “Mohab Mamish” has a length of 147.4 meters, a width of 23 m, a depth of 7.7 m, and a draft of 5.5 m. It has a productivity of 3,600 cubic meters of sand per hour over a length of 4 km.

Its maximum drilling depth is 35 m and the dredger has control, safety and security systems matching the latest standards of international supervisory bodies.

The head of the Suez Canal Authority, Osama Rabie, said the “Mohab Mamish” was one of the vessels used to boost the canal’s development and that the dredging fleet was the main pillar in the strategy for developing the canal’s shipping course.

It provided the best guarantee to maintain the canal’s 24-meter depth, allowing the crossing of giant ships with large submersibles.

Rabie added that the canal’s dredging fleet had recently expanded its work, joining in with the development of Egypt’s ports and the disinfection of lakes.

IHC is working on launching another dredger for the Suez Canal called “Hussein Tantawi.” The two dredgers have a combined value of €300 million ($357.06 million).

Rabie also said the authority’s machines would be developed and the tensile strength would be adjusted to carry 250,000 tons, in comparison to the current 160,000 tons to match the tonnage and size of ships crossing the shipping course.


Iran boosts nuclear program in snub to US

Iran boosts nuclear program in snub to US
Updated 11 April 2021

Iran boosts nuclear program in snub to US

Iran boosts nuclear program in snub to US
  • President Hassan Rouhani inaugurates cascades of 164 IR-6 centrifuges and 30 IR-5 devices at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant
  • The new move is a direct challenge to the US, after talks began last week aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal

TEHRAN/JEDDAH: Iran on Saturday started up advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges in breach of its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to curb its nuclear program.

The new move is a direct challenge to the US, after talks began last week aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. Washington said it had offered “very serious” ideas on rescuing the agreement, which collapsed in 2018 when the US withdrew, but was waiting for Tehran to reciprocate.

Tehran’s response came on Saturday, when President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated a cascade of 164 IR-6 centrifuges for producing enriched uranium, as well as two test cascades of 30 IR-5 and 30 IR-6S devices at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant, in a ceremony broadcast by state television.

Rouhani also launched tests on the “mechanical stability” of its latest-generation IR-9 centrifuges, and remotely opened a centrifuge assembly factory to replace a plant that was badly damaged in a July 2020 explosion widely attributed to Israel.

Rouhani again underlined at the ceremony, which coincided with Iran’s National Nuclear Technology Day, that Tehran’s nuclear program is solely for “peaceful” purposes.

Under the 2015 deal between Tehran and world powers, Iran is permitted to use only “first-generation” IR-1 centrifuges for production, and to test a limited number of IR-4 and IR-5 devices.

When the US withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018, Donald Trump reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran, which responded by stepping up its nuclear enrichment to levels prohibited under the JCPOA.

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Iran’s latest move follows an opening round of talks in Vienna Tuesday with representatives of the remaining parties to the deal on bringing the US back into it.

All sides said the talks, in which Washington is not participating directly but is relying on the EU as an intermediary, got off to a good start.

However, US allies in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, believe any revived deal should also cover Iran’s ballistic missile program and its regional meddling through proxy militias in Yemen, Iraq and elsewhere.

Iran has demanded that the US lift all sanctions imposed by Trump before it resumes compliance with the JCPOA. The US insists that Iran must act first.

“The United States team put forward a very serious idea and demonstrated a seriousness of purpose on coming back into compliance if Iran comes back into compliance,” a US official said.

But the official said the US was waiting for its efforts to be reciprocated by Iran.

Iran is also demanding an end to all US restrictions, but the JCPOA covers only nuclear sanctions and not US measures taken in response to human rights and terrorism issues.

(With AFP)


Coptic prayers suspended in Egypt as virus cases rise

Coptic prayers suspended in Egypt as virus cases rise
Egyptian Christians worshippers attend Christmas Eve mass at the Coptic Catholic St. Mark Church in Minya city, in Cairo on January 6, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 10 April 2021

Coptic prayers suspended in Egypt as virus cases rise

Coptic prayers suspended in Egypt as virus cases rise
  • Prayers will be limited to priests and a few deacons during the restrictions

CAIRO: Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church has suspended Mass prayers in seven dioceses following a rise in daily coronavirus cases.

Prayers were suspended at the dioceses of the Virgin Mary in Fayoum, Archangel Michael in Aswan, Asna and Armant in Luxor, Akhmim in Sohag, Tahta and Juhaina in Sohag, Nag Hammadi in Qena, and Sohag.

“The suspension follows a significant increase in coronavirus cases recently,” said Besada El-Anba, bishop of Akhmim.

He said that priests will continue daily Mass with a number of deacons without people attending for an indefinite period.

“The diocese of Aswan started suspending Coptic prayers in churches during the holy week and resurrection,” the bishop added.

“Mass prayers will be limited to priests and a limited number of deacons,” said Bishop Hani Bakhoum of Sohag.

Anba Kyrillos, bishop of Nag Hammadi, said that the suspension of prayers will begin on Monday and will continue on until further notice, depending on health advice.

Prayers will be limited to priests and a few deacons during the restrictions.

Other dioceses have taken precautionary measures to confront the outbreak of the virus, including holding Mass with 25 percent of the church’s capacity, stopping church activities, services, Sunday schools and conferences, and closing cemeteries.

Priests have also been advised against making home visits.